The default answer is “no.”

Don’t do it.

Eighty-seven times out of a hundred, you will do way better by only talking about fees one on one, with a live client.

Personally, I have experimented with posting and unposting my fees seven different times. (Within the last month, even.) So have all my freelance cohorts. I have followed all the online debates about this. I have watched what the bumblers and scrabblers do. I have watched what the high-earning elite do.

Net:  Skip the price list.

It won’t help, and will mostly hurt.

Okay, wait. There are two situations where it may help to publish your rates.

Only two.

1. To make people quit calling.

If you post your rates and fees I can guarantee that fewer people will call and email asking about your stuff. I have heard this from freelancers over and over. This is a surprisingly consistent finding.

In fact, plenty of freelancers post their pricing specifically to cut down on phone calls and inquiries.

“I was spending too much time dealing with tire kickers and newbies who had no budget. Ack. I couldn’t get any work done.”

No problem. Just post some realistic prices, and you will shut down those calls instantly. No more clueless newbs hounding you all day. You can get back to work.

And, theoretically, anyone who does call is serious, has seen your rates, has money, and thinks you are just swell. Theoretically.

Be careful here, though.

No matter what the harried freelancers say, this is almost never a productivity issue. Heck, if the damn phone rings every time you try to work, you must be sitting on one big-ass opportunity. People kill to make the phone ring like that. What can you offer all these people? Maybe a DIY kit? A training thing? An app? Can you sub-contract the work to some elance.com-ers who work for fourteen dollars a day? Why are you hanging up on ten calls a day?

I think it is more of a sanity issue. It certainly was for me.

I would get this ‘ barrage’ of calls. You know, like maybe four.

And those callers would end up blowing me off because I charged way too much. So I would start wobbling and waffling. I feared that I was indeed, after all, just a charlatan and crook. I would think about reducing my exorbitantly obscene rates. I felt like crap.

If you have this particular affliction, don’t cave and lower your rates. Just post your usual fees on your site. That way, when people see your rates and do a ‘WTF’, it will all happen way out on the Internet, like maybe in a basement in Michigan, where you can’t hear it.

The best solution, though, is to take the calls. Hone your ears and instincts and questions so that you can tell in the first four minutes if it’s an opportunity or a goose chase. (“Hi, I have this dry cleaning shop in Wichita. . .”  or   “We are a lean start-up currently looking to develop a product once we get an idea and . . .”  You can politely pass. Net expenditure, three minutes, one chuckle. And you learn a little something.

Over time, the more customers you talk to every day, the smarter you get. Even when they are clueless and they really don’t need you. The conversations give you a sixth sense for how different clients think, what they are looking for, what the real issues are out there in the real world. You learn that by rubbing up against a lot of clients. Even the ones who blow you off or don’t call back.

You will do way better than the tender artiste who sits in the studio waiting for the well-moneyed patron to drop in.

And yes, there is a second situation when posting prices may help.

2. When you sell mostly to first-time buyers, one-time clients

If your clients are people who buy your kind of work all the time — like webmasters, creative directors, editors, marketing managers, project managers — they know how things are. The creative director knows how many zeros should be on the price, more or less. They are mostly looking for a good fit, for style, for skill. Money is number three or four.

But what if you are offering something that people buy only once, or only rarely?  What if you’re offering a service most clients don’t understand, exactly?

Let’s say you’re offering photography services to brides. Or menu design for restaurants. PR services for authors. You set up websites for doctors. You translate financial content into Romanian. You draw maps. Proofread manuscripts. Maybe you do database conversions. Special events planning. Aerial photography.

Most of your potential clients will have no clue what any of this costs. Because they never buy it, and have never thought about it till now.

Which means they are hoping it costs somewhere around $200.

That’s where publishing fees may help. Maybe.

Here’s the theory.

A client starts asking friends or poking around the Internet wondering about aerial photography or custom WordPress themes. Every site they visit says, “Call for a quote.” Which is annoying, because it’s 3 a.m. and they really don’t want to call anyway. And there isn’t even a phone number or email address. Just some irritating contact form that doesn’t let you ask anything, and only asks how much money you have.

Then they hit your site. And you talk about some rough fees, or packages ‘starting at. . .”. Or, maybe you have an educational page outlining what various scenarios might cost.

The client now gets it. They appreciate your transparency and generosity. You were the only one who talked plain. They like you. So the next day, they call you.  (Or they say, whoa, I though this was like $200. Never mind.)

Does this actually happen? Will it work this way for you?

The only possible way to tell is to try it for 30 days with prices, then 30 days without. Or maybe sixty days.

See which strategy lands the most jobs. The most clients.

Until then, the default answer is still, ‘don’t post prices.’

Stay flexible.

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